Reality Bites: 10th Anniversary Edition

January 28, 2012 11 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

You might argue that “Reality Bites” is nothing more than a mid 90’s movie filled with nothing more than bits and pieces of good 70’s and 80’s music…you might be right. To me and a lot of others though, “Reality Bites” is an expression of our generation, a timestamp of who and where we were when it came out. True, it didn’t revolutionize filmmaking as we know it and it didn’t win any major awards, but it’s made by people of my (our) generation and it’s a movie for people of our generation. I think it would be next to impossible for anyone of the previous generation to get this movie. After all, how many of them sat on the couch, smoked dope, watched MTV all day and all without a job? Not many, I’m guessing. “Reality Bites” is a statement of who we are, though the movie might be six years old now, the message is still quite the same–Young people struggling to find who they are in this complicated world.

The movie starts with Lelana (Winona Ryder) giving her Valedictorian speech at her University graduation and, oops, she is missing a note card. So her final wishes to all in attendance is “I don’t know”. That kind of sums up what she and her friends know about now. After all, graduating from college doesn’t make you any smarter (take it from me, I know). It’s no doubt that Lelana is smart, her parents have been divorced and she was forced to grow up on her own, as is with her friend Troy (Ethan Hawke). Troy is the epitome of a slacker. He smokes cigarettes all day, watches TV, has been fired from 12 jobs (the latest for stealing a Snickers candy bar) and is trying to find a way to tell Lelana that he loves her; though his methods are a bit confusing at times. Lelana is in the midst of making a documentary of her and her friends: Troy, Sammy (Steve Zahn), Vickie (Jeanane Garafolo) and Lelana herself. While ultimately, Lelana would like to sell her documentary for some major bucks, most likely used to pay rent, she has her artistic integrity. Since graduation, she has a job at a local “Good Morning…” show where she hates the host and he her (John Mahoney, the dad from ‘Frasier’), but is eventually fired for rigging his note cards. In the middle of all of this is Michael (Ben Stiller), a young, yuppie-ish executive who meets Lelana through blind luck, but start to form a relationship (which angers Troy). While not exactly right for each other, Michael offers to help Lelana with her video, as he is working with “In Your Face” productions. In Your Face productions is describes as “MTV–with an edge!”, but as we learn later on, all they do is cater to teenagers and take good works of art and materialize them for the MTV generation. Now all of this might seem like it would make sense and Lelana would be happy, but as mentioned before Lelana has her artistic integrity. She gets ticked at Michael and is confused about her relationship with Troy; she needs rent money and doesn’t know what to do.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, Vickie is battling her own personal demons as she has gone and had an AIDS test and is struggling with what the results might or might not be, Sammy is struggling with his own sexuality and is trying to think of a way to “come out” to his family…there’s a lot of stuff going on here. You know what? The people of our generation have a lot of stuff going on, while maybe not these exact same issues, there are some very similar. Reality Bites hit home with me and I loved it instantly. It captured a time of many people’s lives that they can relate to and was shown in a truthful enough way that it made sense to others as well. Whether it’s for you or not, only you can be the judge. I’ll tell you this for sure, it has a great soundtrack and in my opinion is one to watch over and over again. Maybe the only drawback of the movie is Ben Stiller. While this is his directing debut, he also stars in it and communicates much in the same way he does now…through a series of half pronounced sentences and stuttering, followed by a series of hand gestures. For him it may work, I don’t know, but I don’t like it and I feel someone else could of played the part. But who am I to judge? I have some MTV to watch…

Video: How does it look?

“Reality Bites” utilizes many different formats in this presentation on DVD. There are several shots from a HI-8 cam (for Lelana’s video documentary) and a good majority of that is played on television screens. The parts that are shot like a regular movie look splendid. The movie is shown in it’s original 1.85:1 ratio and is presented in anamorphic widescreen. The result is terrific! I saw a few blips here and there, but on the whole it was a great image. And while not an “old” movie, it does benefit from the 16:9 enhancement. If you need proof, just watch the full-screen trailer. I might add that I’m giving this transfer the same score as I did when the original was first reviewed. I was young and stupid then, and with a smaller TV. I’m now older and wiser and with a bigger TV that truly shows off the glory of this re-mastered transfer.

Audio: How does it sound?

As mentioned earlier, this has a great soundtrack. In fact, this movie is mainly known for the soundtrack. I’m not sure, but I think that the sountrack to this movie outgrossed the acutal movie itself. Anyhow, there are several songs that sound great in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and the ending credits have the full-length song of “Stay” by Lisa Loeb (too bad they didn’t have the video…she’s fine). Still, dialogue is clear and channel seperation is as well, overall a good sounding disc and a great soundtrack. There are two Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks, an English and French and both sound superb. It won’t rock the room, but then again it’s not supposed to…

Supplements: What are the extras?

As far as supplements go, well they vary from the original offering to this one. Gone are the Production Notes and Cast Bios (a staple of early DVD’s) and included is a new screen specific commentary track by Director Ben Stiller and Screenwriter Helen Childress. These two actually give a pretty good commentary track. Stiller is, well…himself and though Childress hasn’t done much more in the movie world, she manages to give out a lot of information. The two divulge little things like the proper use of the “F” word and how many times scenes were shot. It’s a good track and one that most fans will want to listen to. The next major supplement is the inclusion of seven deleted scenes, two of which have an optional video introduction by Stiller and Childress. All are shown in a non-anamorphic widescreen transfer and though some would be great included in the movie; it’s explained to us why they didn’t make the final cut. Lisa Loeb’s video “Stay” was probably the thing most easily associated with this movie and that did make the cut from the original DVD to this one (duh). Also included is a new interview with her telling about the song and how it was used in the movie, etc. And yes, she’s still utterly attractive with the glasses and all…Lastly; we have a retrospective featurette that has new interviews with the cast reflecting on the movie. Stiller has gone on to become the biggest star of the cast, though Hawke garnered an Oscar nomination a few years back for “Training Day” and we all know of Winona Ryder’s troubles. Still, it’s nice to see the cast from a movie get back together after a decade and talk of the good times they had while making it. It goes to show that no matter how impersonal a project might be, it can still be personal as well. The original theatrical trailer is also included.

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